Kipling was unwittingly flattering when he described Aotearoa New Zealand (well, Auckland, actually) as “last. loneliest, loveliest”. This week, we continue to qualify as, simply, last. And it’s lonely at the bottom.
That’s where Action Aid, a global aid institute, ranked New Zealand among 22 donor countries for our lamentable performance in delivering on sustainable agriculture and hunger alleviation. Action Aid is a respected international development research institute based in South Africa, with offices also in Kenya, Thailand, Brazil and Brussels. They are experts who know what they are doing.
In its 16 October report (“Whose Really Fighting Hunger?”) New Zealand came in last (equal) on sustainable agriculture, second-to-last (equal) on social protection, and last (equal) on climate change programmes. And, last overall.
Brilliant. If that were our performance in rugby, all coaches and most players would get the axe as they slept. After a prolonged period of national mourning, there would be a revolution in strategy, organizational planning and programme selection.
New Zealand has long prided itself in our foreign policy for pursuing, endearingly coy as we are to admit it, a peerless brand of enlightened internationalism. We do not enjoy being offered objective evidence to the contrary. We tend to shoot the messenger – more in anger than sorrow.
We responded in that way on race relations, when UN experts queried our domestic record. And on our nuclear-free policy, when our voting pattern at the UN on nuclear disarmament was queried.
In aid, we have always been conflicted. Not only are we one of the smallest donor countries, but we have been one of the most miserly. In terms of size of our aid programme, after struggling up to 0.52% of Gross National Income in the mid-70s, we have since slumped to below 0.3% – under both National and Labour governments. The agreed UN target is 0.7%. Measured as a fraction of our economic size, it is a true litmus test of our generosity (read enlightened self-interest), relative to other donors. On this, we are 6th from bottom.
But we have always told ourselves that it was the quality of our aid that mattered. And, with our unique cultural understanding of our Pacific neighbours, we could ensure a proper delivery of our aid especially into that region.
That myth has now also been debunked. Action Aid’s report, reflecting a rigorous methodology, gave New Zealand 7 marks out of 100 for our overall performance, with a grade of E, and last place. Among the conclusions were the following un-Kiplingesque comments:
On sustainable agriculture:
The scorecard reveals that, with the exception of the top three donor countries – Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway – most OECD countries do not fulfil even half of their expected fair shares required in 2012. The worst performers for ODA contribution are Italy, Portugal, Greece, the US and New Zealand, giving less than 20% of their fair share of the total.
On social protection:
What is more, our scorecard reveals that most rich countries are reneging on their commitments to finance a more ambitious fight against hunger. Despite signing up to UN ‘halving hunger’ goals in 1996 and again in 2000, donor countries reduced official aid to agriculture from 16.8% of all official development spending in 1979, to just 3.4% in 2004. Greece, Portugal, Italy, the US and New Zealand are the worst offenders. And their contribution to expanding social security programmes remains negligible.
On climate change
Achieving global food security also demands that industrialized countries move faster to tackle climate change. Experts estimate that food production could drop by as much as 50% by 2020 in parts of Africa. That is only a little longer than ten years away. Almost all rich countries are defaulters on this front, doing too little to cut their own emissions and giving too little to underwrite adaptation and mitigation costs in developing countries, but Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US rank bottom.
Concerned over these judgements by a respected global institute, I raised the matter in the House yesterday. I asked the Foreign Minister what he thought. You can read the exchange here.
The Minister was absent but the Government reacted in predictable manner nonetheless. It shot the messenger. Not me, though they may have wished it. Action Aid. Its report, you understand, was “flawed in a number of respects”.
We really ought to mature as a nation to the point where we can acknowledge shortcomings in what we do. That is the first essential step to self-improvement.
I shall be writing to the Minister asking for his more articulate views on the report’s flaws than the monosyllabic grunts conveyed on his behalf yesterday.